High school cross country: Motivated Julian running ahead of the pack

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 25, 2021

By Mike London


SALISBURY — South Rowan’s Eli Julian is the Post’s Cross Country Runner of the Year as a sophomore, but he’ll stay hungry.

Motivation will be his constant companion for the next year or so.

Julian just missed on All-State status earlier this month when he was out-kicked down the stretch at the 3A State Championships in Kernersville.

“All-State was a very big goal, and that means finishing top 10,” Julian said. “I was ninth for most of the race. Then I got out-sprinted at the end and finished 11th.”

Reading between the lines, it was still an exceptional race by Julian that included a course PR for him on a chilly, breezy morning that only the Grinch would have loved.

Julian’s time was 16:17, which put him in the “elite” category. Under 16:29 is elite for high school boys. Thirteen runners in the 3A State Championships met that standard.

For girls, the standard was 19:44.

“I was happy with the race I ran under the conditions,” Julian said. “I think it might have been the coldest I’ve ever been at a race. The state course (Ivey Redmon Park) in Kernersville is laid out mostly on soccer and baseball fields, so it’s wide open with only a few trees. That made for a tougher race on a windy day.”

Julian can take major consolation from the fact that he was the fastest sophomore in the race. The 10 runners who crossed the line ahead of him included nine seniors and a junior.

“It’s definitely out there for me to be top five in the state next season and top two is where I really want to be,” Julian said.

No Rowan County runner has won a state individual cross country crown since 1999 when Salisbury’s David Bost ran 16:01 at McAlpine Park in Charlotte and led the Hornets to the 2A state title. The only other team state title in the sport for a Rowan school came when Salisbury’s boys won 1A/2A in 1986.

Can Julian win a state title?

It appears to be a magical, yet attainable goal.

It’s worth noting that only one Rowan female ever won a state cross country championship. That was East Rowan’s Rebekah Frick, who clocked 19:18 in 1992.

She is Rebekah Frick Julian now, and she is Eli’s mother.

A gene pool, which also includes Scott Julian, a very accomplished runner in his days at East Rowan, is quite strong.

Eli’s older brother, Noah, was Rowan County Cross Country Runner of the Year the previous three seasons and now competes for Lenoir-Rhyne.

Eli was runner-up to his sibling in a long series of races last season as a freshman, but this was his time and his season.

“Eli is a sophomore who is already like an assistant coach,” said South’s rookie head coach Tyler Downs. “This guy is a running machine. Whatever you ask of him, he can do it.”

Eli usually ran solo this cross country season, rather than nipping at his brother’s heels. He had to set the pace in every race right up to the state meet but he was up to the challenge. He was quite a bit longer and stronger than he was as a relatively tiny freshman.

He ran 16:29 on the mucky Dan Nicholas Course to win the Rowan County Championships, keeping it all in the family for the fourth straight year. His margin of victory was more than a minute.

In the South Piedmont Conference Cross Country Championships held at Frank Liske Park in Concord, Julian was the individual champion in 16:43 and South’s boys took the team championship.

“We knew it was going to be neck-and-neck that day with Lake Norman Charter,” Julian said. “My teammates ran a great race. Winning conference was a huge accomplishment for us.:

In the 3A Midwest Regional at Salisbury Community Park, South was second to Lake Norman Charter, but Julian took the regional championship in 16:54 on hilly terrain that he considers his home course and favorite training ground.

“You’re not going to get many PRs at the Community Park, not with those hills,” Downs said. “But our guys were solid and Eli was just screaming.”

Julian ran 4:47 for the first mile.

That regional title paved the way for Julian’s strong performance in the 3A State Championships, where he had a chance to run with his South teammates, most of whom are part of a stout sophomore class.

Scott Julian stepped down as South’s head coach after last season, but he stayed involved with the workout programs and helped Downs keep the program rolling. South has won four straight county championships.

“Coach Downs had a very good connection with the guys,” Eli Julian said. “He teaches at the school, and hopefully that will help him recruit and get more guys out for the team.”

South sophomores Grayson Cromer (third in the conference meet with 17:31)  and Aaron Jones (fourth in 17:59) were among the county’s top runners. South had five of the top 14 and six of the top 19 runners in the county meet.

“We’re young, but our guys are crazy talented and crazy motivated, just very mentally into running,” Downs said.

They’ve all got an elite distance runner to chase.

Last week, Eli, who is now competing in indoor track, ran the 3200 meters in 9:52.43, breaking a school record. John Peterson set it. It had stood for 45 years.


East Rowan is making a cross country comeback. Nermin Hodzic’s team joined South as a state qualifer. South was 14th in the team scoring in the state meet, while the Mustangs were 20th. Sophomore Shayden Edwards and senior Thomas Ferguson usually led the Mustangs.

West sophomore Ethan Wilson emerged as a promising runner. He ran 17:31 in the Rowan County Championships for runner-up honors, placed sixth in the South Piedmont Conference Championships and was a state qualifier.

Carson’s James Anderson was an individual state qualifier, as were Salisbury’s Jake Denhard and Will Koontz.

The county should be stronger next season. The top six runners in the county meet were sophomores.


All-Rowan County boys (top 12 in county meet)

Eli Julian, South, Runner of the Year

Ethan Wilson, West

Grayson Cromer, South

Aaron Jones, South

Shayden Edwards, East

James Anderson, Carson

Thomas Ferguson, East

Carson Ritchie, East

Connor Price, Carson

Daniel Fabian, East

Brooks Hubbard, South

Aaron Arnold, Carson

Coach of the Year: Tyler Downs, South